Medical school students and community leaders discussed how to make Yale’s community service efforts more effective at a presentation sponsored by the Yale American Medical Student Association Thursday night.

The three-part presentation, titled “Exploring the Role of Yale University and its Students in the New Haven Community,” featured several speakers, including Julio Gonzalez ’99, executive assistant to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., and Claudia Merson, coordinator of the public school partnership at the Yale Medical School. About 30 medical school students attended.

Deanne Nakamoto MED ’05, co-president of the Yale American Medical Student Association, was optimistic that the presentation could help facilitate better community service efforts at Yale.

“We are trying to get people to think critically about the community service that they do,” Nakamoto said. “This presentation is aimed at giving people the tools they need to translate good intentions into efficacious action.”

The first group of speakers highlighted the impact that Yale has on its surrounding community. Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said urban universities spend eight times more money than the federal government on urban improvement programs.

Morand noted that Yale was unique in its commitment to community service.

“The relationship between Yale and New Haven is one of the most exemplary partnerships in the nation,” Morand said.

Speakers cited many examples of Yale-based community service efforts as models for how Yale students should run their own organizations. These included the Medical School’s needle exchange program and tutoring efforts in local public schools.

But Gonzalez stressed that community service at Yale is far from perfect and is sometimes characterized by motives other than helping those in need.

“There is an unfairness in how undergraduate community service works,” Gonzalez said. “Some make great changes and some really don’t do all that much. Some are exploitative efforts by students to improve their resumes.”

The presentation addressed specific qualities that make community service groups effective. The speakers concluded that community service groups need to focus on specific needs within the community and do research to determine whether their services will actually benefit the community.

Merson lamented that many student groups do not adequately research what they need to do to make a positive impact.

“[Community service groups] sometimes get a $3,000 grant and inflict their programs on the Yale community,” said Merson.

Yuri Agrawal MED ’05 said she was enthusiastic about the lessons she learned at the presentation.

“I’ve learned what it takes to make an effective organization,” Agrawal said. “There are all of these entrenched organizations that have been doing the same thing for years. Communities are dynamic, the times are dynamic and organizations should be continually reevaluating what they are doing.”

Though no undergraduates attended the event, Roshan Shah MED ’05, co-president of the Committee Overseeing Volunteer Services, or COVS, at the Yale health professional schools, said he thought the presentation achieved much of its original goal.

“[The presentation] was effective in getting the chairs of the different [community service] groups to really consider what effect they have on the community,” Shah said. “From a COVS perspective [the presentation] targeted who we wanted to target. From the overall purpose of the panel I don’t really think so, but that is a problem with anything that is held at the Medical School.”